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ruler   :  Archive   :  1976 to 1995   :  UK Schools Apr 1994



School CP - April 1994


The Guardian, London, 1 April 1994

Scars of weal life

By Andrew Moncur

THE POPULAR enthusiasm for flogging people, in the name of law and order, has always baffled me. It is particularly hard to take from those I classify as Singabores.

The Singabore is the class of person who corners you in a railway compartment or in the dining room of a remote hotel and starts droning on about how wonderful and tidy life is in Singapore.

This sticky city is, you are told, a litter-free demi-paradise, thanks mainly to the truly admirable menu of punishments its authorities dish up.

My word, you are even guaranteed to get your picture in the papers there if you are caught peeing in a lift. Right now it is the corporal punishment option which is enjoying all the attention. Admirers invariably mention it with particular relish.

The Singabore always, of course, sees a good judicial beating as something that happens to somebody else -- and, further, someone who thoroughly deserves it.

His own innocent, lily-white backside would never be bared to the jailer's rod. The only smacking likely to take place around his person occurs in the region of his lips, whenever the topic is raised. He will be boring on at the moment about Singapore's admirable way of dealing with alleged vandals, including the odd American youth.

The message? Well, we ought to have a bit more walloping and thrashing around here. The answer to all of our problems is clear: dust off Judge Jeffreys, shake the mothballs out of his wig, install him on the bench at a good, bloody assizes and set up the whipping post.

A few stripes, here and there, and in no time at all Britain will be a peaceful, law-abiding society without a trace of litter from one end of the Strand to the other. It's as simple as that. And it never did me any harm, did it?

I'm going to have to bare my own buttocks at this point. In my case, if beatings didn't do any harm it wasn't for want of trying. I'm not saying that I was ever given the treatment in Singapore. I merely attended the sort of English school that caned, maintaining the traditional belief that the point at which good behaviour can be instilled in a boy is around the hindquarters.

A headmaster's beating -- the ultimate, refined, Mk 12 version available in the range -- was meant to be a genuinely frightening punishment. It was designed to scare rigid not only the boy at the receiving end but all the rest who would see, possibly for several weeks, the scale of damage inflicted.

Beatings of the sort available lower down the range, dealt out by housemasters and a laughably gentle deputy head, were always followed by a little ritual. The boy, having taken his punishment, was expected to stand around and shake hands with the grown man who had laid it on.

At the headmaster level there was an additional refinement. The convicted criminal would be told at 9 o'clock in the morning that he was to be beaten. He was then allowed to think about it for the next 12 hours.

At 9 o'clock in the evening he had to report back, wearing pyjamas, for sentence to be carried out.

Pyjamas don't serve much purpose at the best of times. I tell you, they don't do a thing when placed between cringing flesh and a maniac letting loose with eight strokes of a bamboo cane. What's more, a maniac who then wants you to shake his hand.

Yet worse, the sort of maniac who has a small brass knob on his study door which -- when all other departments of the body corporate are screaming to get the hell out of there -- allows a sweating palm to swivel hopelessly, unable to take a grip and open the wretched thing.

Curiously, I don't feel too badly about the man who practised his forehand smash on my rear end. I would still, though, like to have a word with the little creep of a master who stationed himself outside.

When I eventually sprinted off like a scalded cat, wanting to do nothing but bounce away into the night, he was able to haul me up -- for running in the corridor.

And if anybody thinks that a sound thrashing teaches us the error of our ways, I can only say that I broke out of school the very next night for an out-of-bounds excursion and a quiet smoke. An act of pure defiance, calculated to offend against sections of the criminal code too numerous to mention.

It was exactly the sort of outrage for which I had been punished in the first place. Only this time I was doubly careful not to get caught.

Corpun file 19046


Washington Post, USA, 17 April 1994

Welcome to the Birch Society

From a Well-Caned Brit, Timely Tips For Michael Fay

By Christopher Robbins

THE CASE of Michael Fay, the 18-year-old who has been sentenced in Singapore to receive six strokes with a cane on his bare buttocks, has divided the United States into two camps: floggers and non-floggers. The debate is highly emotional, and for once America seems short of experts.

Which is where I come in. As an Englishman, I was sent to boarding school at the age of 7 and was mercilessly flogged until my late teens. I have been beaten with gym shoes, birch and metal-tipped swagger sticks; on buttocks bare, pajamaed and trousered; by head masters, house masters and prefects. If that's not expertise, what is?

True, I have never been strapped to a bench and thrashed with a half-inch, soaked rattan cane, but while this is no doubt more painful, the psychological effects must be much the same. I would like to tell Michael that the reality of a caning isn't nearly so bad as the mind's dark imaginings preceding it. Sure, it hurts like hell - but not for long.

Initially, there is a ferocious stinging. It soon fades. The strokes leave angry welts, there is possible (and in Singapore, probable) bleeding and the wounds throb for a week - but permanent scars are unlikely. Take it from someone who has been beaten black and blue but whose rear end is still smooth as a baby's.

The first time is the worst. I can never erase the memory of the terror and misery of that initial beating at the age of eight. I had been caught running down the stairs from the dormitory, on the left-hand side, while talking. Three rules broken at a stroke. I was in for it.

I waited outside the headmaster's study, knowing I would be beaten. Waiting is the worst part. Michael already knows this. Floggers know it too, and use it. I suffered in that cold school corridor for two hours, my stomach knotted in anticipation and fear of the unknown. I remember a small boy's despair and misery . . . the utter loneliness.

And the smell of the headmaster's study, a combination of furniture polish, books and pencil shavings, a scent as distinct as Chanel No. 5. To me it was the smell of the wrath of God. The headmaster, a doctor of divinity, pronounced the sentence. I was to receive "Six BB" - six slaps of a gym shoe on the bare bottom.

The punishment over, I shot from the study like an arrow. I was given advice on pain management by veteran victims of the gym shoe, some of whom actually had healing potions and ointments in their lockers. The most soothing remedy seemed to be lowering one's rear end slowly into a basin of cold water.

It was never quite so bad again, even in the upper school where masters used the birch. Caning was certainly never an effective deterrent. Bad boys like myself formed a hard core of repeat offenders.

Awaiting the punishment always remained a stressful psychological experience, one I never mastered. The caning itself depended greatly on which master was dishing it out. There was one who needed to work himself into a fury to administer the blows. He made boys hold onto the rear of a chair while he charged across the study at them, waving his cane. He would trip over chairs in his anger, send coals flying from the scuttle, knock small china objects from side tables. Once, reduced to helpless laughter by his antics, I was immediately given another three strokes for dumb insolence.

Other masters were more studied in their methods, some downright cruel. One bent boys over a sofa and counted to 10 between each stroke. He called these "love taps." Another coated his cane in chalk so that each stroke was marked on the victim's behind, and one lash could be piled on top of another. He referred to this as "grouping."

Worst of all were the beatings delivered by one's peers, the house prefects. Offenders were marched to the gym where the horizontal beam was lowered and the victim forced to drape himself across it. A metal-tipped swagger stick - the military batons used in the school army cadet force - were used. Not so bad as the birch, unless the metal bit caught you, which was nasty.

The humiliation and fury of being beaten by a boy of a similar age is total. Anesthetized by rage, I felt no pain. But the hatred engendered as a result of these punishments was so pure that for days afterward I became utterly nihilistic, capable of blowing the school to smithereens if only I'd had a bomb!

It has been said that boarding school boys who have been beaten regularly over the years develop a sexual taste for this in later life. I find this incomprehensible. The only good thing about being beaten is the same as the only good thing about banging your head against the wall: It's wonderful when it stops.

To face the beatings, it was necessary to follow a code. The aim was never to cry or show pain, an ideal not always achieved by everyone. But the intention was always to march stiffly out of the study after a beating without complaint; some stylists even managed a dry "Thank you, sir."

Michael should take note. To face the ordeal, he must develop steely fortitude. It may not alleviate the pain, but it will certainly lessen the humiliation. As an American watched by all the world, he should adopt the code of the Far East and not lose face. The schoolboy in me would then think he was a bit of a hero.

Of course, Michael lived in Singapore as a resident, not as a tourist, so must have been aware of the draconian laws of the state. Still, this sentence has been hanging over him since October - more than six months. To me, that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The wisest words of all come from Michael's father: "If they're going to cane him, cane him quick and let's get him home." Now there's a man, I'll wager, who felt the strap himself in his youth.

Christopher Robbins writes for the Times of London.

Copyright 1994 The Washington Post

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